To borrow from the words of T. S. Eliot, good writers borrow, but great writers steal. E. W. Hornung would probably propose a corollary: the greatest writers steal from family. Throughout the 1890s, the explosive success of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories spawned a glut of deductive copycats and wannabe-Sherlocks, reproducing the formula of the genius detective and his bumbling assistant-slash-scribe. In the earliest edition of The Amateur Cracksman, the first collection of stories centred on E. W. Hornung’s A. J. Raffles, there was a dedication to Doyle, “To A. C. D. This form of flattery.” This direct form of address would probably have seemed either impertinent or fawning, coming just any imitator. Hornung wasn’t just anyone, though; he was Doyle’s brother-in-law.
One of the most pervasive images of acrobatic ability is of trapeze artists dangling from the crossbar, leaping and shining through the air, and eventually landing gracefully on a parallel crossbar. To train the body to perform such death-defying acts must batter the muscles, sinews, and bones of the artists. Such endurance is honed for those few moments of perfect grace and agility: when the hands connect to something solid and the crowd is on their feet. Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s poetry in Acrobat, available now from Archipelago Books, has that same leaping energy and agility in its imagination which demands not only the reader’s attention, but earns it.
Marco awoke with a muddled gasp. He was on his feet, midway between his study and the bedroom. The hall was dark, his throat dry. He put a hand against the wall and waited for the debilitating confusion to fade. Thankful he hadn’t tumbled down the stairwell, he plodded to the bathroom for a drink from the tap and slid back into bed beside Connie. He rubbed his eyes and was asleep within minutes.
Words show nothing. Out of nothing
Come the wondrous things.
Words are light, in the beginning:
There is awe in the silence of light.
Commune, at night, with your heart upon your bed,
And be still. Out of darkness
Come the wondrous things
Ex nihilo, out of the space
Of the slightly smiling expression
On the face of light.
Ironies of something
And nothing, goodness transforming,
That its joy may be made complete:
We’re all little people down here,
don’t pray with our hands.
Four-legged at the beginning/
you’re a winged-thing aren’t you?
Still scared of the dark,
we sleep under the sheets.
Father’s climbing up the ladder.
Nick the art kid
Who introduced me to whorehouses and cocaine
Showed me that hedonism was a sinless path
That pleasure was the only true pleasure
And that we live inside a dream